Dane Dandridge and Bryan Torfeh in the Asolo Rep’s Deathtrap.
For reasons probably too complicated to explain here, you don’t see many thrillers these days on Broadway (unless you count waiting for the injury toll to mount on Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark as thrills). That’s too bad; it’s a time-tested genre with a venerable history—one that’s paid homage in the Asolo Rep’s current production of Deathtrap.
It helps that this murder-and-mayhem play has good bloodlines (no pun intended); it’s by Ira Levin, who also wrote Rosemary’s Baby and Stepford Wives, so you know you can count on some clever, cynical dialogue and conniving characters along with lots of plot turns. That’s important, because Deathtrap’s been around for a while, which raises the question: How do you keep the thrills in a thriller once you’ve seen it and know what’s going to happen?
The answer, under Peter Amster’s direction, is not to try to clutter up the clockworks with newfangled ideas or contraptions—just play it straight. Hence, Deathtrap remains in the period it was originally set—a time of no cell phones or computers, etc. Just the good old reliable elements for suspense: an isolated setting (in this case, the weapons-filled study of a mystery writer who’s running dry, Sidney Bruhl); a dark and stormy night; and a satisfying lineup of potential killers/victims.
Sidney (Bryan Torfeh) seems to be welcoming a would-be playwright named Clifford (Dane Dandridge) to his home for a consultation in the opening scenes of Deathtrap—a consultation his wife, Myra (Mercedes Herrero), hopes will help revive Sidney’s flagging career and the family coffers. But maybe Sidney would actually like to get his hands on Clifford’s sure-fire play for himself—and would be willing to kill for it. If only that nosy psychic who just moved into the neighborhood (Carolyn Michel) would stay out of his way…
Although Deathtrap is familiar to many of us, it is still entertaining, in a comfortably old-fashioned way. Torfeh makes duplicity charming; Dandridge has a dynamic energy as Clifford, whether it’s for good or evil; and Herrero, Michel and James Clarke (as Sidney’s lawyer) offer dependable support (Michel’s comic timing is impeccable, but her Dutch accent seems a little iffy at times). Michael Schweikardt’s set design perfectly replicates ours and Levin’s image of Sidney’s lair, and the more dramatic action (staged by fight director Bruce Lecure) is convincing enough to be disturbing.
All in all, Deathtrap is an enjoyable reminder of the thrillers of yesteryear we don’t see much nowadays. It continues onstage through May 14; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to AsoloRep.org.